Olavi Trio — Oh, La Vie! (TUM, 2015)
This trio set from Finland presents an unhurried mix of trombone, bass, and drums by three players who share the middle name of Olavi. It’s an improv session with a casual feel.
Even the track called “Hurry Up,” with its busy percussive clacking and nervous bass bowing, doesn’t overpower. It’s certainly fast and gets the blood flowing, but it preserves a sense of space.
See if you agree. This segment of “Hurry Up” is about as densely packed as the album gets:
Most of the time, Olavi weaves a loose fabric, which makes for an engaging session with a sense of fun. One reason for that, I think, is that the trombone has more “friction” than a saxophone or a trumpet. To my ears, anyway, it seems harder for the trombone to produce fluid streams of notes. (There might be dozens of Paul Rutherford albums that disprove this theory.)
But that’s not all that I mean by “space.” Even when drummer Niilo Olavi Louhivuori is filling space with all manner of percussion, bandmates Teppo Olavi Hauta-aho (bass) and Jari Olavi Hongisto (trombone) keep a calm demeanor.
“Kalle Killi,” for instance, is playful in a calm, loping way, with a rubbery bass rhythm fronted by improvising at a pace that doesn’t break the spell, even as Hongisto’s melody intensifies and Louhivuori’s percussion gets more active.
The band doesn’t shy away from occasional tonality, and that gives distinct personalities to a few tracks. “Chaplin” hides shades of vaudeville sadness in the trombone melody. “Forest Walk” is an apt title for a casual stroll of a piece — another slice of egalitarian improvising, sustaining a balance that keeps the group moving forward — and even winds down with a traditional ending and resolution.
Another track I liked was “Evening Song,” a showcase for Hauta-aho’s bass. It’s built around an improvised trombone melody by Hongisto, but the fill-ins from Hauta-aho add up to a robust bass solo, full of rubbery plucked notes.
TUM is a Finnish label that’s been releasing works by American artists such as Billy Bang, Barry Altschul, and Wadada Leo Smith — so it’s about time I listened to some players from TUM’s native land. It’s yet another example of a European label taking up the task of documenting the American art form (Clean Feed, NoBusiness, Not Two, and countless others are in this group as well).